EOD tech school puts 'battlefield' into PT
Physical fitness workouts for Air Force explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) candidates now have a battlefield twist at Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal (NAVSCOLEOD), as the 366th Training Squadron Field Training Detachment 3 has revamped their fitness program to turn Airmen into "tactical" athletes.
Air Force EOD operations have changed significantly during the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as the need for a more robust and joint operational capability increased, going from a primarily airbase response to full spectrum combat operations in physically demanding and non-permissive environments.
"Over the last 10 years, the Air Force EOD program has evolved," said Chief Master Sgt. Al Schneider, 366th Training Squadron Detachment 3 superintendent. "We have operators on the ground, we support special operations forces, we support Marines...we need to be physically fit so we're not a detriment to the mission. When we're out there on the ground with whatever force we're supporting, we're an asset. We have the EOD capability, but if we can't take the capability from point A to point B, the mission fails."
Career field leaders recognized the need for Airman to be able to physically endure the many hardships they will encounter in the field.
After collaboration with Air Education and Training Command, the Physical Ability and Stamina Test (P.A.S.T.) was implemented to raise the fitness level of EOD candidates. The P.A.S.T. is also used by other battlefield Airmen career fields such as pararescue and combat control.
Passing the P.A.S.T. is now a prerequisite at the recruiting stations and also at the Air Force's EOD preliminary course at Sheppard Air Force, Texas.
With the more demanding fitness requirement in place, it became clear to the technical training community a more rigorous fitness program was needed to meet the demands placed on graduates once they made it to the field.
"Putting the P.A.S.T. into our operations was a great first step," said Lt. Col. Jerry Sanchez, 366th TRS Detachment 3 commander. "But it really was just the beginning of our fitness revolution."
Wanting to go further to improve physical fitness training, Air Force Special Operations Command EOD, in conjunction with the Hurlburt Air Force Base (Fla.) Health and Wellness Center, designed a career field specific fitness test called the T.O.P.E., or Task Orientated Physical Evaluation.
The T.O.P.E. is a repeatable test simulating tasks EOD technicians will encounter in a deployed setting. The test consists of a 1.5 mile ruck march (with 50 pounds), simulated robot lift (50 pounds and four repetitions), a six-foot wall scale, a jerry-can run (with two cans) and finishing with a second 1.5 mile ruck march (with 50 pounds).
Although not currently in the EOD Career Field Education and Training Plan (CFETP), the intent is to include the T.O.P.E. test in the CFETP in the future to help ensure all technicians stay in the physical shape necessary to meet mission requirements.
With the writing on the wall, it was clear to the Detachment 3 staff they needed to ramp up the intensity of physical training at NAVSCOLEOD for the candidates. The question was how.
"We found career field-wide the need for a battlefield mentality in physical training," said Staff Sgt. Aaron Cantu, 366th TRS Detachment 3 EOD instructor. "To meet the demands of the battlefield, we developed a new PT program."
Enter the "Battlefield Survivability through Physical Fitness" program.
Developed in October of 2011, through a joint collaboration with Mr. Ben Gleason, former 96th Force Support Squadron exercise physiologist, and 366th TRS Detachment 3 instructors Tech. Sgt. Layne Mayerstein and Staff Sgts. David Flowers and Michael Turner, the program emphasizes weightlifting mechanics, increased strength, power and agility.
"What we want to do here is when they first get to their duty station, physically and emotionally, we want a full-up (EOD technician)," Schneider said. "If they did have to deploy the next day they would be ready to go."
Although the Battlefield Survivability through Physical Fitness program is not designed around the P.A.S.T. or T.O.P.E. fitness tests, the focus of the program is on developing tactical athletes who can complete mission-specific tasks.
With workouts concentrated on particular areas of the body and increasing in intensity as the program progresses, including power-lifting in the final phase, raising the fitness and confidence levels of the candidates is a primary focus.
"Our main goal for the students is to prepare them for going downrange," Turner said. "We want to make them physically fit, not only in body, but psychologically as well."
The four-phase program is designed to last eight months corresponding with students' progression through NAVSCOLEOD, with physical training five days a week. Each phase of the program is eight weeks in duration.
"It's a crawl, run, walk approach," Sanchez said. "It's part of an overall training plan...I want our graduates to go out to the field and be the subject matter experts when it comes to physical fitness."
In the future, the plan is to use the T.O.P.E. as a metric and another validation tool for the Battlefield Survivability through Physical Fitness program at NAVSCOLEOD.
Although the program is overseen by the detachment staff, the beauty of the program is it is led and executed by students, providing opportunities for candidates to be leaders.
"(PT) is led by the student leaders," Cantu said. "It's a great leadership evolution...fellow Airmen trying to push each other to make everyone better."
Using data taken from P.A.S.T. tests administered throughout the NAVSCOLEOD course, the program is showing that candidates are leaving in much better shape than when they arrived.
"We found out it's working from the Airmen themselves," Turner said. "We show a huge increase between phase one and phase two, not only in run time, but push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups."
From the testimonials of Airmen in the program, it's clear the results have been positive.
"When I first got here, (PT) was only three days a week," said Senior Airman James Ruiz, EOD candidate. "They teach you the basics when you first get here...how to stretch, workout, lift. It definitely gets you ready for the physical aspect of the job."
"I've seen a lot of improvement since I got here," said Airman 1st Class Kristen Fay, an EOD candidate who has doubled her pull-up reps since arriving at NAVSCOLEOD five months ago. "We like to have competitions in our group...it promotes teamwork and it's a lot of fun."
The tangible benefits include a healthier force overall.
"We're the only squadron in Air Education and Training Command to have a physical fitness score average of 90 or above and no medical profiles," Cantu said. "Everybody leaving here is in much better shape and ready to handle the physical stressors and day-to-day grind of a deployment."
The 366th Training Squadron Field Training Detachment 3 is part of the 782nd Training Group at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, which conducts technical training in telecommunications, aircraft systems, avionics, civil engineering, fuels and vehicle operations for over 13,000 students annually.
Article by Dan Hawkins, 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs